Taoiseach says man captured in Syria entitled to consular assistance

Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev

Update 11am: The Taoiseach has said that a man captured in Syria by militants fighting Isis is entitled to consular assistance from the state.

Speaking from Mali on Monday, where he is visiting Irish Defence Forces, Leo Varadkar, said: “I’ve only heard about that in the last short while.

“The information we have is that an Irish citizen has been taken into custody in Syria.

“We don’t know the details of that so I can’t comment on it in any detail but what I can say is that any Irish citizen around the world is entitled to consular assistance and will get that.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it was looking into the matter but had not received any requests for consular assistance.

It is understood the man is 45-year-old Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev and had lived in Dublin but left the country in 2013.

He is believed to be among five jihadists captured in Syria for fighting for Islamic State.

The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces claimed they arrested the militants in the east of the country.

A spokesman for the group said they included two US citizens and two Pakistanis.

“The operation Jazeera Storm, carried out with the aim of liberating the last regions under the occupation of Isis, continues steadily towards clearing the last bastions of the group,” a statement said.

“Recently, in order to prevent the advance of our forces, terrorists have attempted to carry out attacks several times.

“In this context, a group of terrorists who had been preparing to attack the civilians who were trying to get out of the war zone in masses was detected.”

A spokeswoman for the Gardaí said the force was aware of the report.

“The individual may be identical to a naturalised Irish citizen who, it is understood, departed Ireland in 2013.

“An Garda Siochana is monitoring the reported development.”

- Press Association

Update 8.19am: 'Matter for concern' that man captured in Syria obtained Irish citizenship

By Vivienne Clarke

Security and anti-terrorism expert Declan Power says it is a matter of concern that a man with Irish citizenship captured in Syria had obtained citizenship despite coming to the attention of the Garda Siochana's crime and security branches apparently based on reports from external partner agencies.

“We can't be complacent about the reach of extremism into this State from other locations. It's a wake-up call for us not to be complacent.”

The man, who is 45 years of age and originally from Belarus, is the holder of an Irish passport having lived and worked in this country for a number of years. In 2013, he left with his family to go to the Middle East.

File image

It was reported yesterday that the Irish citizen had been arrested by Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS in Syria.

He was one of five men detained, when patrols targeted a terror cell at Deir ez-Zor, on December 30.

Gardaí said the man was known to them in the context of the monitoring of individuals sympathetic to radical causes.

Mr Power, a defence analyst and former member of the Irish army, told RTE’s Morning Ireland that it's not surprising that foreign fighters are being "shook out of the sack" in the mop-up operations taking place in Syria.

“It behoves us to look a bit more closely at how somebody was able to obtain citizenship if they were under suspicion of activities that would be damaging to this State and our partner States.

“We shouldn't be entirely surprised that an Irish citizen has been found. It's not that long ago since the death of Terence Kelly who was born and raised in Ireland who had gone off to throw in his lot with Islamic State.

What should be a matter for concern is that this individual is alleged to have come to Ireland from another State, settled here with his family and worked and obtained Irish citizenship.

Somewhere along the line he came to the attention of the Garda Siochana's crime and security branch apparently based on reports from external partner agencies.

Maybe what we need to look at more closely is the level of scrutiny we can apply to somebody when they come to the State.

"If this individual managed to obtain citizenship and yet seemed to have been engaged in activities outside of the State before he came here, it raises questions that are worth asking because this kind of thing is not going to die off just because Islamic State, one iteration of extremism, is dying out, but extremism isn't dead and gone with the death of Islamic State.

“I have no doubt that the authorities here work very hard and know what is happening in our back yard, they also work very closely with agencies abroad.

"But with regards to checking individuals who haven't come to anyone's attention initially or coming from nation states that have broken down, there's no opposite number that somebody in an Garda Siochana can liaise with regard to that - we should take that into consideration.

"Most people have spent a few years living and contributing to the State before they gain citizenship.”

Mr Power said he was curious about background of this citizen, “people like this usually fit a pattern, I doubt he was radicalised in Ireland, if that's the case, how did he actually end up here?

“I'm sure he was living a blameless life in Ireland, but that's not the point, the point is the activities he was engaged in and the organisations he was attached to, which led to him fighting in Syria.

Earlier: Irish citizen, 45, arrested by Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS

A 45-year-old Dublin man has been arrested by Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS in Syria.

He was one of five men detained, when patrols targeted a terror cell at Deir ez-Zor, on December 30.

The Kurdish backed Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF say it made the arrests after breaking up a terror ring that was preparing to attack civilians fleeing the war zone in masses.

The US supported militia says it detained five men, including one from Ireland, two from America and two from Pakistan.

The Irish passport holder is a 45-year-old man, who previously lived and worked as a security guard in Dublin.

The raid was carried out at Deir ez-Zor - the largest city in eastern Syria and the seventh largest in the country.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says it is investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrests and the identity of the passport holder.

Gardaí say the identity may be that of a naturalised Irish citizen who departed Ireland in 2013 and they are continuing to monitor developments.

The Taoiseach says he is aware of the reports and speaking during his visit to Mali in West Africa, Leo Varadkar said he is being kept informed of the situation.

"I've only heard about that in the last short while. The only information we have is that is that an Irish passport holder, an Irish citizen, has been taken into custody - is being held in Syria," said Mr Varadkar.

"We don't know the details of that so I can't comment on it in any detail.

"But what I will say is any Irish citizen around the world is entitled to consular assistance and we will get that."

In its statement, the SDF said: "The operation Jazeera Storm, carried out with the aim of liberating the last regions under the occupation of ISIS, continues steadily towards clearing the last bastions of the group.

"ISIS, which is now cornered in a small area after being cleared from large swathes of territory it once held, is suffering heavy losses due to operations of our forces.

"Recently, in order to prevent the advance of our forces, terrorists have attempted to carry out attacks several times.

"In this context, a group of terrorists who had been preparing to attack the civilians who were trying to get out of the war zone in masses was detected.

"Following long-term technical and physical follow-up, an operation against the cell was carried out by our forces.

"As a result of the operation, five terrorists originally from the United States, Ireland and Pakistan were captured."

KEYWORDS:

ISISSyria

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